For the love of learning, this is not how you engage a millennial

We are known as the generation glued to our phones, the ones that hold the trophy for the least engaged workforce and the ones that want answers to their questions, like, yesterday.

Millennials get an interesting rep in learning and the world at large. From not buying houses and diamonds, to needing online learning that’s packed with all the latest and greatest bells and whistles. And while I don’t agree with most of what’s said, I would agree with a few bits and pieces that are floating around about us. I and so many others in and out of the millennial bracket turn to videos and online resources to get what we want and when we need it. Yes, I do turn to YouTube when I need to learn Amy Winehouse’s hairdo for Halloween. And yes, my cooking skills do leave a lot to be desired, so an online video run by a respectable chef goes a long way.

How to engage today’s learner

At this years’ Learning Technologies Summer Forum I ventured off stand to listen in on some of the free sessions. One of the hot topics of the day was capturing and maintaining millennials’ attention. Now that’s totally understandable as we are now the biggest generation of workers, spanning the 1980s to the end of the millennium. But what I didn’t agree with was that the main means of engaging with this demographic was through technology like AR, VR and a whole bunch on gamification. Yes the tech is cool, but we will miss a trick if we forget about the other good stuff.

What if I was to say that sometimes, less is more?

Forget what the media is telling you about millennials. It’s often little more than a fancy buzzword, and focus on what matters. Here are 4 ways you can actually engage with not only Gen Y but also Generation X, Z and another other letter the media thinks up.

  1. Create the sticky content

Telling a story is one of our main forms of communication. Stories help you remember the key facts like the birthdays, the big events, the memorable nights out – so why wouldn’t this be the case for learning too? This is what I call the sticky content, it’s the information you remember because of the additional context the storyteller has provided.

The power of a story should not to be underestimated. A relatable story, playing on the emotions of your learner is going to keep them glued for longer - thus more engaged. Want to read more about this point? Then here’s ten tips to help you build a strong narrative.

  1. Make it relevant and be clear about what’s in it for them (Or: Go behind the cool story, bro)

‘Cool story bro’ is often the sarcastic phrase that pops into my head when I’m doing online learning. Let’s say your course is about an important process that your company has in place. You know you have to learn it but then you see a few extra add-ons about another process for another task entirely. Why?! If it’s not relevant for this process why are you showing it to me now?

It’s about learning at the point of need, I am much more likely to be engaged with the learning course if it’s relevant to what I’m doing on the job at that moment in time. If you know your learner needs to know this course but the information won’t be used for another few months, why not park it for another day? The learner will most likely have to go back over the course because they’ve forgotten it anyway.

  1. TBH – can you change it up a bit?

I’ve read a page, I click next – oh now another full page of text, oh and another... Before I know it my eyes have glazed over and I’ve read the same sentence at least five times. (Yes I’m over exaggerating but hey! I have to play up to the short attention span stigma slapped on my generation, remember?)

What if we changed it up a bit by chopping those big pieces of text up and sticking different learning activities in between them? Maybe a video, some audio, or a nice interactive activity would be a welcomed change of pace. It would mean I have to change up what is asked from me and how I’m learning in order to complete the course, and that simple change up, helps keep me alert.

  1. Play to our learning styles

This one carries on from changing it up a bit. Visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, solitary - whatever someone’s style, they shouldn’t be forgotten. I appreciate not all seven learning styles can be applied to the fullest. But a lot of them can be, and if you incorporate them into the learning plan from the get go, you’ve got a lovely blend that’s got something in there for everyone. I’ve listed a few below to start you off:

  • Social learner – Utilise group discussion
    This could be using a social media tool such as Facebook groups or a platform like a Google Hangout. This encourages teamwork and collaborative learning – the perfect environment for social butterflies.  
  • Solitary learner - set homework or extra reading
    The social learner in me crumbles at this suggestion, but yes, some people need homework set. Working by themselves and revisiting the learning sometimes helps this type of learner process information better. 
  • Visual learners - Draw up image heavy content
    Visuals, such as interactive video courses, can help this learner really immerse themselves in what you’re trying to teach them. The interactive course we created for an automotive company is a great example of this.

Sadly though, there’s no magic formula to how we Millennials like to learn. So the best recipe for success is to investigate new trends, start small and scale, and – this might be a novel idea – but before jumping head first into something new - why not ask your learners what they think?  While there will always be new trends, culture is the one thing that’s unique to you, your business, and your learners.

 
 
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